Editor’s Note: This week I’m passing the career advice torch to Career Contessa’s Editorial Director, Kit Warchol. Kit’s an LA girl and knows a thing or two about managing friends, careers, and finances, so she was a natural choice to tell this story when we came up with the concept. Enjoy her fantastic advice!
When you attend a liberal arts school and befriend aspiring writers, artists, and musicians, something happens after graduation: people don’t move on to law firms or tech companies. Instead, they take day jobs at restaurants or freelance as production assistants in the name of their passion, spending every free moment between shifts rehearsing with their band or painting in small corners of tiny studio apartments.
Unlike many of my friends, I don’t have a clear creative calling. This isn’t so much self-deprecating as it is realistic – there will be no film deals, gallery shows, or record label contracts for me. Instead, I headed down a much more traditional career path than anyone I knew At 22, I took a full-time gig with benefits. And by 25 (through sheer luck, honestly) I’d stumbled into the kind of job that paid so well, I could afford to shop exclusively at Whole Foods and drink $12 green juices every morning if I wanted. By many standards, I’d made it. I’d actually find later when I was burnt out and creatively unfulfilled that I hadn’t. But at the time, expendable income felt glamorous and I was ready to treat myself.
Here’s the problem with this scenario: none of my friends were there with me. Suddenly, I was the odd kid out who’d skipped ahead into a different tax bracket. We’ve talked about the importance of honesty when it comes to talking money with friends, but when you’ve lucked into financial stability, how do you make things fair for everyone?
Don’t Flaunt It
I didn’t hide my success. When I was promoted, we celebrated. But I was always careful about how I approached money with my friends. You should feel comfortable venting to those you love and vice versa, but no one wants to hear that you spent too much money splurging at J. Crew when they’re panicked about how to afford emergency car repairs. Be sensitive and listen. It’s easy to forget what it feels like to not know whether you’ll make rent. Go out of your way to empathize and relate to your friends’ experiences.
Embrace Happy Hour
Going out is expensive regardless of how much you make in take-home pay, and there are always better uses for that money anyway. My friends and I started meeting for 5 PM drinks at our favorite places to save some cash. An unexpected upside was how quiet it often is at bars around that time, making it easier to talk and meet new people. We also embraced a “Girls Night In.” Do the math: two $12 glasses of Malbec per person, or a $20 bottle of Gamay split four ways?
Pick Up The Tab (Or Don’t)
When friends and I went out to dinner, I took convenient opportunities to cover the bill. That’s not to say that I made a big to-do flashing my card at every outing. But if a friend came to the table miserable after an excruciating day at work, I’d treat. On the flip side, I learned not to turn down a friend’s offer to pick up a round of drinks. It can come off as condescending to refuse because you’re afraid they can’t afford it. Trust that your friends understand their finances and accept their offers graciously.
Give Thoughtful Gifts
Money really isn’t everything. As the holidays roll around, you may have more money to treat your friends, but chances are they’re not interested in (or comfortable with) you giving them an exorbitant Apple Watch. Avoid the temptation to spend money as a sign of affection. You can still treat friends to things they’d never buy themselves without overshadowing your good intentions with price tags. For example, I love gifting Nars lipsticks in bold colors or pricey candles that no one in her right mind would buy herself, regardless of her salary.
Host A Party
From my birthday in June to the Eggnog Open House I throw each December, I love hosting parties. Dinner parties. Costume parties. Brunch parties. You name it. I realized pretty early on that throwing an event was the perfect opportunity to treat my friends to great food and wine without any awkwardness. As my salary went up, we all got to share in the wealth of expensive cheeses and high-end ingredients.
The dynamic shifted when I made the bold decision to walk away from my “successful” career in favor of a more creative position, and inevitably, a pay cut. But my social circle continues to relate to each other as they always have: through an honest and realistic lens. We help each other practice asking for raises or edit each other’s follow up emails to potential employers. But more often than that, we talk about what we read in The New Yorker, what movies we want to see, or weird Tinder dates we’ve been on. And that’s why, regardless of financial success, we’re friends in the first place.